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WRESTLING

Little brothers coming up big for Bennington

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Their first names are the same and their last names are familiar.

But Bennington teammates Josh Pokorny and Josh Velasquez are ready to be more than just names.

They are among a state-high 13 qualifiers for Class B’s fourth-ranked team entering the three-day state wrestling tournament that starts Thursday at the CenturyLink Center.

Both Pokorny and Velasquez have older brothers who won multiple state titles in the Bennington program.

Andy Pokorny won three straight gold medals from 2005 to 2007. Brett Velasquez capped his brilliant high school career in 2014 with his fourth state championship.

Josh Pokorny said he always figured it was a good thing to have a successful sibling. “I enjoyed watching him win,” he said. “I wanted that same feeling.”

But even his dad, Bennington coach Alan Pokorny, admits it was challenging for Josh to grow up in that shadow.

Alan said he remembers taking Josh to youth tournaments and hearing people say, “that’s Andy Pokorny’s little brother.”

It usually meant Josh, now a junior, was about to be bumped up into a tougher bracket.

“They didn’t realize they were two different kids,” Alan Pokorny said. “We’ve always told him: ‘Go out and wrestle and be yourself. You’re not Andy. And you don’t have to be. Do what you do. Don’t worry about anything else.’ ”

Both younger brothers say that understanding that mentality was the key to success. Each takes 41 wins into the state tournament.

Velasquez has just three losses and is ranked No. 3 at 138 pounds. Pokorny, at 41-4, is the sixth-ranked 126-pounder in Class B.

Neither had an especially standout youth career.

“They grew up not having as much success as their older brothers,” Alan Pokorny said. “I’ve kind of felt sorry for them at times. You could see that they felt the pressure.”

Velasquez said it was both good and tough.

“I wanted to learn for myself what works for me,” he said. “We both understand that we’re not our brothers.”

Both Joshes have put in the work and seen it pay off. Velasquez, a senior, will wrestle at Hastings next year.

“He just got better and better every day,” Alan Pokorny said. “Coming into high school, you kind of have an idea where kids are at or where they can get to. I would have never expected that (Velasquez) could be at this point. The fact that he is is a testament to him.”

Both Pokorny and Velasquez medaled a season ago. Pokorny lost in the quarterfinals but battled all the way back to finish third. Velasquez reached the semifinals before settling for fifth.

Each won a district championship last weekend as the Badgers had finalists in 11 of 14 weight classes and won their first Class B district title. Bennington has six ranked wrestlers entering state.

Like Pokorny and Velasquez, Bennington’s entire team has exceeded expectations this season.

The Badgers have a win over Class A No. 3 Millard West. Their only Class B losses are to the three teams ranked ahead of them, and two of those were close setbacks.

After top-three showings in the team race for four straight seasons from 2005 to 2008 (all in Class C), the Badgers have only one such occurrence since, a third-place finish in B in 2011.

So while Alan Pokorny admits he’s pleased with the way the season has gone, he’s definitely not content.

“We’ve got to finish,” he said.

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